Questions from the Tour: Outlining, Part Two

by Jeff Abbott on August 8, 2008

One way that outlining doesn’t seem to obviously help a writer is in creating characters. Isn’t an outline basically a listing of scenes?–so how can it be an aid in character creation?
For me, an initial outline–whether done on index cards, a piece of paper, or using a software program (all of which I’ll talk about tomorrow)–tends to be a listing of ideas for scenes–and scenes tend to be about action or conflict, not the details of character. But character drives action, so the development needs to go hand-in-hand.
So before I make that list of scenes, I’ll usually draft a bio of the book’s main characters, focusing first on hero and villain. This can be very freeform, but I’ll start by writing about his or her background, personality, greatest desires, unmet needs and wants, and his or her relationships with other characters. This gives me the barest idea of how this character may act in scenes: will he be aggressive, will she be witty, will two characters spark when they confront each other?
Then, as I start to build scenes, I can draw on the bios to develop scene ideas more clearly. It also helps me concept new scenes–if I write in the bio that a hero’s flaw is his lack of patience, then I need to show that in the scenes, and that flaw begins to color the scenes in which the hero appears. Therefore you have character influencing plot more clearly from the beginning of the writing process.
I know this is a messy, nonlinear approach a lot of the time, but it helps focus the mind and also the opening act of the book.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the tools I use in outlining.

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